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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

Be a lighthouse, not a helicopter (parent)

How to achieve that balance between parental involvement and fostering healthy independence

Parenting is a journey filled with love, challenges, and the desire to provide the best for your child. It's natural to want to protect and guide them every step of the way. However, finding the right balance between being involved and allowing independence can be a delicate dance. As a parent of a tween myself, I do find achieving this balance can be challenging at times! In this article, let's explore the concept of being a "lighthouse parent" with some practical tips on how to strike that balance.

The Lighthouse Parenting Approach

Imagine a lighthouse standing tall on the shore, its steady beam of light guiding ships safely through rough waters. Similarly, the role of a lighthouse parent is to offer guidance, support, and a sense of security, while allowing children to explore, learn, and grow. Being a lighthouse parent is all about balance - these parents stand as steady guides for their children from a distance. They ensure their children feel safe and loved, but also let them learn from their mistakes.

In this parenting style, it's important to distinguish between the 'rocks' and the 'waves' as our approach will be different for each. The 'rocks' are clear or life-threatening dangers (like getting into a car with an intoxicated driver for example). In these instances, we need to promptly intervene to protect our children and steer them away with a guiding hand. In contrast, the 'waves' are difficult life challenges that may result in mistakes, failure or other natural consequences (like failing a test we didn't prepare for or not scoring a goal). Our children need to learn how to handle the 'waves' and learn from the experience, so they are better equipped to successfully navigate the outside world. We can allow our children to experience these challenges and mentor them to facilitate their learning and growth from the experience, so they emerge stronger and wiser.

As Dr Kenneth Ginsburg from the Centre for Parent and Teen Communication says: I like to think of myself as a “Lighthouse Parent.” A stable force on the shoreline my child can measure themselves against. I see it as my job to look down at the rocks and make sure they do not crash against them. I look into the waves and trust they will eventually learn to ride them on their own. But I will prepare them to do so."

In lighthouse parenting we need to watch out for the 'rocks' but let our children handle the 'waves'.

So how can we embrace this parenting style? Here are some practical tips:

Foster Independence

Encourage your child to make age-appropriate decisions. Start with small choices like what to wear or what book to read, and gradually build up to bigger decisions. This empowers them and helps develop critical thinking skills.

Open Lines of Communication

Create a safe space for open and honest conversations. Listen actively, without judgment, and validate their feelings. This builds trust and encourages your child to come to you with their concerns and questions.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries provide a framework for your child to understand their limits. They need to know what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Consistency is key here; be firm but loving in enforcing rules.

Encourage Problem-Solving

When faced with challenges, resist the urge to swoop in and solve everything. Instead, guide them through the process of finding solutions. This helps build resilience and confidence.

Celebrate Their Achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate your child's accomplishments, no matter how small. This boosts their self-esteem and motivates them to continue striving for success.

Teach Them Self-Care

Help your child understand the importance of taking care of their physical and emotional well-being. Encourage healthy habits like exercise, proper nutrition, screen time management and adequate sleep.

Avoiding Helicopter Parenting

While it's natural to want the best for your child, being overly involved can hinder their growth and independence. Remember, over-protection does not prepare young people to navigate turbulent waters on their own. Here are some tips to avoid falling into the "helicopter parenting" trap:

Trust Your Child's Abilities

Believe in your child's capabilities. Allow them to face challenges and overcome them on their own, with your support as a safety net.

Avoid Over-Scheduling

While extracurricular activities are important, be mindful of overloading your child's schedule. It's crucial they have time for unstructured play and relaxation.

Resist the Urge to Hover

Give your child space to explore their interests. Let them take the lead in their activities, while you provide guidance from the sidelines.

Let Them Experience Failure...and learn from it

Failure is a natural part of learning and growing. Allow your child to experience setbacks and be there to offer encouragement and help them navigate through it with new insights and learning.

Prioritize Your Own Well-Being

Taking care of yourself is equally important. When you're in a good place physically and emotionally, you'll be better equipped to be the lighthouse your child needs.

Being a lighthouse parent means being a steady and guiding presence in your child's life. It's about instilling values, fostering independence, and offering unwavering support. By striving to find this balance, we can better empower our children to navigate the waters of life with greater confidence and resilience.

Be well,


Dr Paula Robertson is a busy mom and a paediatrician with over twenty years' experience working with young people and their families. She is also a certified children's mindfulness teacher and Positive Discipline Parenting coach. You can find out more at

Our AI wellness assistant has contributed to the writing of this article

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